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(There have been new developments since I wrote this.  Read the update to this post here.

Ok, so yesterday I discussed my personal productivity beliefs, and the tools I used before I switched to Mac. A couple of years ago, I became a convert, drank the Kool-Aid, and now I use a Mac and an iPhone. I have to say that personal productivity with Apple tools is not as good as using Outlook and a Windows Mobile device. But really, everything else is better on a Mac, so that fact did not convince me to go back. And I’ve found ways to work around the shortcomings. (Note to Apple Computer, Inc. programmers: I would LOVE to help you solve these problems!)

For a while I used Entourage, which is basically Outlook for Mac. And actually Entourage is better than Outlook, mainly because it has the very powerful “Project Center.” However, I was warned that it was unstable, and not easy to back up, and I found this to be true. It crashes, and it takes forever to get back up and running, even if you’ve backed up. That was a deal-breaker for me. So I switched to the Mac-native tools, which are part of the operating system: AppleMail, iCal, and Address Book. I don’t think it’s quite as convenient, because of the whole “everything in one place thing.” So now I have to use at least three, and even these aren’t comprehensive enough, so they need some help. The first problem is that creating a task from an email is very clunky and not easy. So I’ve added on a program called MailTags. Well worth the $29.95 download cost and solves that problem.

Next problem: I think the ability to color-code my calendar, and categorize my to-do list, is essential, and iCal requires a little bit of overkill. You can’t just add a tag or color to a calendar event, or just select a category for your to-do’s. But I’ve found a workaround for this as well and it works fine. I created a main calendar for calendar events, with sub-calendars for every calendar category I wanted. Then I created another main calendar for Tasks, and created sub-calendars for all my Task categories.

iCal categories
iCal categories

As I mentioned, it’s more complicated than it needs to be, but until iCal gets better at event and to-do list categorization, it’s necessary for me.

Notes are another problem. They aren’t very user friendly in Mail, but it leads me to the BIGGEST frustration for me with Apple tools:  neither To-do’s nor Notes sync to your iPhone. What’s the matter with those Apple programmers?! Upon searching the web to see if there was a way to do this that I just couldn’t figure out, all I found was people complaining that it couldn’t be done.

There are many, many workarounds for Tasks but for me they are all lacking in one way or another, plus I’d prefer not to have to use YET ANOTHER program. But here’s what I’ve discovered: when I am away from my computer, I don’t need my tasks. If I’m away from my office/computer, it’s because I’m at a meeting, speaking, delivering training, etc., so there is no reason to be consulting my task list. Before you jump to a web-based program for task management because you can’t sync with your iPhone, consider whether you really need your tasks on your iPhone or not. If you absolutely have to have that feature, there’s Remember the MilkToodledo, and Todoist, among others.

It IS vital for me, however, to be able to sync my Notes and have them with me. I use Notes for all kinds of lists and reference information, so I need them often. Since there is no easy way to use Notes in the Mac-native suite, nor do they sync with an iPhone, I was forced to include yet another program into my personal productivity arsenal. I chose Evernote. It has a desktop application and an iPhone application, and it’s very powerful in that I can take text notes, video notes, audio notes, web clippings, etc. And they sync, via the web, where I can view them on my iPhone. But the one thing I don’t like is that they don’t reside locally on my iPhone. I can only access them when I have an internet connection on my phone and that’s not always convenient. So while it’s not a perfect solution, it’s one I can live with for now.

Using Mac native tools for productivity now has one big advantage for those who need to share things with others: you can publish to the web via MobileMe and share calendars, contacts, and view your emails online. This also allows you to keep them synced with another computer. Still doesn’t include notes and tasks, however, but most people don’t need to share those things.

So there’s my rant about Apple and productivity. If you have comments, suggestions, or questions, I’d love to hear them. You can also follow me on Twitter @mnthomas, where I try to post useful productivity information.